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Healthy Choices at Indian Restaurants: Navigating the Menu

Indian cuisine is filled with rich flavors, vibrant spices, and a diverse range of dishes. Whether you're a regular at your local Indian restaurant in Amsterdam, like Miri Mary, or trying it for the first time, making healthy choices can sometimes be challenging. In this health guide, we'll provide you with an in-depth exploration of tips for navigating the menu and making healthier choices without sacrificing the deliciousness of Indian cuisine.

Start with a Salad

Many Indian restaurants offer refreshing salads that can be a great way to kickstart your meal. Options for salads that are loaded with fresh vegetables, such as cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers, and lettuce. These salads not only provide essential vitamins and minerals but also help curb your appetite, making it easier to control portion sizes later in the meal. Ask for dressing on the side to control the amount of oil and calories. A simple cucumber and tomato salad with a squeeze of lemon can be a delightful and low-calorie option.


Choose Grilled or Tandoori Dishes

When it comes to the main course, consider exploring the world of grilled or tandoori options. Tandoori dishes are marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven that imparts a unique smoky flavor without the excessive use of oil or butter. Popular choices include Tandoori Chicken or Tandoori Paneer (cottage cheese). These dishes are not only lower in calories and saturated fats compared to their fried counterparts but also retain the essence of Indian flavors.


Options for Lean Proteins

If you're a fan of curries, you have a world of choices to explore. When choosing curries, options for dishes with lean proteins like chicken, fish, or legumes (such as lentils or chickpeas). Avoid dishes with heavy cream or excessive amounts of ghee (clarified butter), as these can significantly increase the calorie and fat content of your meal. Tomato-based curries like Chicken Tikka Masala or Chana Masala (chickpea curry) are generally lower in calories and healthier options.


Be Mindful of Bread and Rice

Indian restaurants offer a variety of bread and rice options that can quickly add calories to your meal. Instead of naan (buttered flatbread) or biryani (a richly spiced rice dish), options for whole wheat roti or brown rice when available. These choices are higher in fiber and nutrients, making them healthier alternatives that will keep you feeling full longer. If you are eager to try, I would recommend Miri Mary’s Whole Wheat Tandoori Roti.


Control Your Portions

Indian restaurant servings can be generous, often leading to overeating. To avoid this common pitfall, consider sharing dishes with your dining companions. Sharing allows you to sample a variety of flavors without consuming excessive calories. If you prefer to order your own dish, ask for a to-go container right away and set aside half of your meal before you start eating. This way, you can enjoy the meal in two sittings and keep portion sizes in check.


Mindful Cooking Techniques

To make healthier choices at Indian restaurants, it's essential to understand various cooking techniques. Indian cuisine encompasses a wide range of methods, and some dishes are healthier than others. Look for terms like "bharta" (roasted and mashed), "jalfrezi" (stir-fried with vegetables), or "bhuna" (slow-cooked with spices). These methods typically involve less oil and can be healthier choices. Even Miri Mary’s Dutch-inspired “bitterballen” are slow-cooked, which is a lot healthier.


Incorporate Vegetarian

Indian cuisine offers a plethora of vegetarian dishes that are both flavorful and nutritious. Vegetarian options are often lower in calories and saturated fats while providing ample protein and fiber. Consider trying dishes like Palak Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese), Baingan Bharta (roasted eggplant), or Daal (lentil curry) for a satisfying and healthful dining experience.


Savor Yogurt-Based Accompaniments

Indian meals are often accompanied by yogurt-based condiments like raita or cucumber salad. These not only add a cool contrast to spicy dishes but also provide probiotics and calcium, contributing to your overall well-being. Enjoy them in moderation to enhance your dining experience while making healthier choices.


Hydrate Wisely

Making healthy choices extends beyond the food you eat to the beverages you choose. Opt for water, herbal teas, or lassi (yogurt-based drinks) instead of sugary sodas or alcoholic beverages. Staying hydrated with low-calorie options can complement your efforts to make healthier choices and keep your calorie intake in check.


Explore the Spice Rack

One of the most remarkable aspects of Indian cuisine is its vibrant array of spices, many of which come with health benefits. For example, turmeric, a key ingredient in curry powder, contains curcumin, known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Cumin, coriander, and cardamom are other spices commonly used in Indian cooking, each offering unique flavor and potential health benefits. Embrace the spice and savor the healthful properties they bring to your meal.


Choose Dishes with Leafy Greens

Indian cuisine incorporates various leafy greens, such as spinach, fenugreek leaves (methi), and mustard greens (sarson ka saag). These greens are not only rich in vitamins and minerals but also low in calories. Incorporating dishes with leafy greens into your meal is an excellent way to boost your nutrient intake and enhance the healthfulness of your dining experience.


Embrace Lentils and Legumes

Indian cuisine features a wide variety of lentil and legume-based dishes, which are not only delicious but also packed with protein and fiber. Dishes like daal (lentil curry), chana masala (chickpea curry), and rajma (kidney bean curry) are excellent vegetarian options that provide essential nutrients while keeping calorie counts reasonable. Lentils and legumes are also known for their ability to promote fullness, making them a great choice for those looking to manage their weight.


Take Advantage of Herbs

Indian cooking incorporates an abundance of herbs, such as cilantro, mint, and curry leaves. These herbs not only add flavor but also contribute to the overall healthfulness of your meal. For example, mint has digestive benefits, while cilantro is a good source of antioxidants. Embrace the use of herbs in your dishes to enhance both flavor and nutrition.


Balance Spices and Herbs

Indian cuisine is known for its bold use of spices and herbs, and while these can provide numerous health benefits, it's essential to strike a balance. Spices like ginger, garlic, and black pepper are known for their potential immune-boosting properties, while herbs like fenugreek and curry leaves can aid in digestion. However, excessive use of spices and herbs can sometimes lead to discomfort. Pay attention to your body's reactions and adjust the level of spiciness or seasoning to suit your preferences and comfort.


Mind the Sweets

Indian desserts, often referred to as "mithai," are a delightful way to end your meal. However, many traditional Indian sweets are loaded with sugar and ghee, making them calorie-dense treats. If you have a sweet tooth, consider sharing a dessert with your dining companions to enjoy the flavors without overindulging. Alternatively, opt for fruit-based desserts like mango lassi or fresh fruit salad, which are healthier choices.


Educate Yourself About Indian Cuisine

To make informed choices at Indian restaurants, it can be beneficial to educate yourself about the cuisine. Learn about the various regions of India and their culinary specialties. Understand the key ingredients and cooking techniques used in Indian cooking. This knowledge will empower you to make healthier choices and appreciate the nuances of Indian cuisine even more.


Choose Restaurants Wisely

Not all Indian restaurants are created equal when it comes to health-conscious options. Some may focus on traditional, richly spiced dishes, while others offer lighter and more contemporary Indian cuisine. Before dining out, read restaurant reviews or visit their website to get a sense of their menu and approach to cooking. This way, you can choose a restaurant that aligns with your preferences for healthier eating.

Conclusion

Eating at Indian restaurants in Amsterdam can be a delightful experience while still making healthy choices. By starting with a salad, choosing grilled or tandoori dishes, options for lean proteins, being mindful of bread and rice, controlling portions, considering cooking techniques, incorporating vegetarian options, savoring yogurt-based accompaniments, hydrating wisely, exploring the spice rack, choosing dishes with leafy greens, embracing lentils and legumes, taking advantage of herbs, balancing spices and herbs, minding the sweets, educating yourself about Indian cuisine, and choosing restaurants wisely, you can enjoy the rich flavors of Indian cuisine without compromising your health goals.


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